Category Archives: Mesolithic

Developments in Swiss glacial archaeology

Glacial archaeology in Switzerland has been on the move. And that was long overdue! Glaciers and ice patches are melting at heart stopping rate in the Alps and valuable archaeological ressources are being lost without us having the chance to record, investigate and understand them!

10-10-010 Glacial archaeologists from Switzerland and Italy met last May in Berne and the meeting resulted in quite a bit of media interest. The meeting was innitiated by the L’Académie suisse des sciences humaines et sociales (ASSH/SAGW) and they have set up a website with with a number of ressources concerning the meeting and glacial and ice-patch archaeology. Do have a look, esp. also at the glacial archaeology dossier in their Bulletin (2/2019)! And certainly not just because I was also fortunate to be allowed to contribute something about the so far little known “Fuorcla da Strem Sut”-site, the oldest glacial archaeological site from the Alps, dating back to the Mesolithic.

SAGW/ASSH – Gletscherarchäologie

Furthermore, there was an amazing little exhibition at the Geschichtsmuseum in Sion, VS about glacial archaeology last winter. And lastly, the Konferenz der Schweizer Kantonsarchäologen und Kantonsarchäologinnen (KSKA) has build a website which instructs the public and all those who are regularly activ in the Alps what to do in case of archaeological finds on or near ice patches or glaciers in the Alps, it’s called ALPARCH.CH

If you go hiking, climbing or mountaineering or work in the Alps, bookmark this site on your mobile phone and notify archaeologists if you find something interesting! And don’t be shy. It’s hard, even for archaeologists, to see on first sight, whether something is interesting or not, and we rather go and look a few times with limited success then loose more finds. We love to hear from you!



Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes – a new publication!

« Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes : évolution des armatures du second Mésolithique au Néolithique ancien entre Jura et Préalpes suisses. » was just published as part of a volume full of French, Belgian and Swiss Mesolithic goodies. It has it all: lithic technology, typology and use-wear. Enjoy your reading!

You can buy the book here. Or surely, your preferred local bookshop will be able to organise it for you as well.

Bassin (L.), Cornelissen (M.), Jakob (B.), Mauvilly (M.) 219 – Trapèzes, fléchettes et autres pointes : évolution des armatures du second Mésolithique au Néolithique ancien entre Jura et Préalpes suisses. In : Arbogast (R.-M.), Griselin (S.), Jeunesse (C.), Séara (F.) (dir.) – Le second Mésolithique des Alpes à l’Atlantique (7e – 5e  millénaire). Table ronde internationale, Strasbourg, les 3 et 4 novembre 2015 , Strasbourg, 11-37 (Mémoires d’Archéologie du Grand-Est 3).


The rich lithic assemblages from the sites Arconciel/La Souche and Onnens/Praz Berthoud provide new insights into the end of the Mesolithic in western Switzerland. The continuous stratigra-phic sequence at the rock-shelter of Arconciel/La Souche (canton of Fribourg) was excavated between 2003-2012. It evidences the repeated occupation of the site between 7100-4800 BC. The numerous projectile points found here show the typological development of this artefact category throughout its occupation. This development is characterised by the appearance of Late Mesolithic blade and trapeze industries just before the middle of the 7th Millennium BC and a continuing tradition of production into the 5th Millennium BC. Macro- and microscopic use wear analysis of a sample of artefacts allows the discussion of the function of artefacts which are habitually called projectile points. These analyses indicate multiple uses of the artefacts throughout the site’s occupation and show how those artefacts used as projectile points were probably hafted. Excavated between 1997-2004, open-air site Onnens/Praz-Berthoud (canton of Vaud) is another rare example of a recently excavated site dating to the end of the Mesolithic on the Plateau Suisse. In addition to a comparable corpus of Late Mesolithic projectile points, an assemblage of Early Neolithic, 5th Millennium lithic artefacts extends the chronological range offered by Arconciel/La Souche. Although there are small differences between the projectile point assemblages from the two studied sites, there are many parallels as well. This is especially true for the symmetric and rectangularly shaped trapezes and some of the so-called “evolved” points. A diversification of shapes can be observed towards the end of the Mesolithic. This diversification is accompanied by an increasingly asymmetric trapezes and the appearance of small, asymmetric points with concave bases, called “evolved” points or “fléchettes”. With time these small points show ever increasing inverse and invasive retouch, slowly developing the characteristics of Early Neolithic points. The comparative study of two assemblages of projectile points provides new insights into the typological characteristics and their developments throughout the End of Mesolithic and the beginning of the Neolithic north of the Alps. This study increases our knowledges of the Late Mesolithic of the Swiss Plateau, while the archaeology of the following period, esp. that between 4800 and 4500 BC remains difficult to grasp here. Little comparative material is momentarily available for the rare material from this period from Onnens/Praz Berthoud.


Avec chacun de riches séries lithiques, les deux sites d’Arconciel/La Souche et d’Onnens/Praz Berthoud viennent compléter nos connaissances de la fin du Mésolithique en Suisse occidentale. L’abri sous roche d’Arconciel/La Souche (canton de Fribourg) a comme principale caractéristique une stratigraphie conséquente, avec des phases d’occupation qui se succèdent chronologiquement presque sans interruption de 7100 à 4800 av. J.-C. Il livre également une série importante d’armatures dont l’évolution typologique jalonne le remplissage de l’abri. En plus d’un corpus comparable du second Mésolithique, le site de plein air d’Onnens/Praz Berthoud (canton de Vaud) vient quant à lui apporter un assemblage de pièces qui sont datées dans la continuité au cours des quelques siècles postérieurs à 4800 av. J.-C. L’observation des séries de ces deux sites apporte des élé-ents de caractérisation typologique pour la fin du Mésolithique au nord des Alpes. En plus de cette approche typologique, la fonction de ces pièces définies comme armatures est également questionnée avec l’analyse tracéologique de quelques artefacts d’Arconciel/La Souche. Les résultats de ces observations conjointes mettent en évidence la diversité des armatures de la fin du Mésolithique avec une évolution des trapèzes qui deviennent de plus en plus asymétriques, parallèlement à l’apparition de petites pointes dites « évoluées » (fléchettes, pointes asymétriques à base concave) tendant vers des pièces davantage recouvertes de retouches rasantes, jusqu’à celles caractéristiques … (auch auf Deutsch unten) Continue reading

From the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age and back again

It is not all Mesolithic in this archaeologist’s life. Last year around this time I took a break from my PhD-research, mainly to earn some money. It turned out it was not bad either to gain some distance from it and to then return to it with a fresh mind almost a year later. It also meant this blog went on a little hiatus. But isn’t it amazing, that after more than 10 years (!!!) it’s still going?! In the meantime, I joined a small team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne on a rescue excavation of a Middle/Late Bronze Age settlement near the Lac du Bienne in western Switzerland. It was a geologically interesting location and the site helped to fill a chronological and geographical hole in the prehistory of the region. The famous lake side villages give us a good understanding of the region’s occupation during the Late Bronze Age and the Neolithic. The period in between is sadly less well known in the region. Because of their early discovery and the amazing preservation of organic materials, the focus of archaeologists in the region has long been on these lake side villages. What took place during prehistory beyond these lakes was considered less interesting. The past years has seen a number of rescue excavations and research projects addressing these themes and our excavation of “Sutz-Lattrigen Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a” plays its own small part in that.

You wouldn’t think it from this photo, but for most of the excavation we were very lucky with the weather. This changed in December…

You wouldn’t think it from this photo, but for most of the excavation we were very lucky with the weather. This changed in December…

Our initial report has now been published in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Bern 2018 (full citation below). We were able to excavate part of a settlement dating to the Bronze Age C/D – Ha A1 (that is the Middle to Late Bronze Age). Apart from building remains (C14-dated to around 1500-1270 cal BC) and a large amount of ceramics and some metal finds, we also discovered a large cup-marked erratic boulder (“Schalenstein” in German). In fact, it was a regular visitor to the site, 8-year-old budding archaeologist Nahly P. who discovered the cup marks! She lives nearby and often came to visit us with her mother or grandmother to see what we were finding and helped us, of course using her own brush and trowel. The erratic seems to have been placed in a pit with some care and deliberation, together with four smaller boulders. Three of the latter were placed at the same depth in a row in front of the section with the cup marks. Many cup-marked stones are known from the region and from Switzerland in general. Few, however, are found in a prehistoric settlement context and few are secondarily deposited in a pit. When and why this happened will remain unknown for now. Two radiocarbon dates from small charcoal flakes taken from the pit fill date to the Middle Ages, but sadly this tells us very little as it is hard to known how and when these tiny charcoal particles got into the fill.

Finding this cup-marked stone reminded me of something Prof. Richard Bradley wrote in his classic The passage of Arms:

“Much of the difficulty is created because only two stages of the life cycle of an artefact can actually be observed: its production and its final deposition. What happened in between needs to be inferred.” (Bradley 1990, p.33)

Now I am back working on my PhD about the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland and the Jura Mountains. You can find out more about the site in Sutz-Lattrigen, the finds and the cup-marked stone in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Bern 2018. A short note also appeared in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 101, 2018.

The crack team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne excavating at Sutz-Lattrigen-Hauptstrassse 57, 59, 59a.

The crack team of the Service Archéologique du canton de Berne excavating at Sutz-Lattrigen-Hauptstrassse 57, 59, 59a.

Cornelissen, Marcel; Ramstein, Marianne; Stapfer, Regine; Zaugg, Pascal (2018), Sutz-Lattrigen, Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a. Eine mittelbronzezeitliche Siedlung über dem Bielersee. In: Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des kantons Bern, S. 107-109.

Cornelissen, Marcel; Stapfer, Regine (2018), Sutz-Lattrigen BE, Hauptstrasse 57, 59, 59a. In: Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz (101), S. 188.

The unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses II

A little while ago I posted a photo of a crystal inclusion in a white flint bladelet. I promised to post some more, whenever I think of it. So here is another example of the beautiful things I have encountered doing the use wear analyses. This burnt flint bladelet, like the last example from Late Mesolithic layers at Lutter/St. Joseph, France, did not show any signs of use. However, the microscope does show beautifully the microfossils within the flint, or possibly radiolarite, out of which it was made. And, like the last example, this photo also shows the possibilities of the digital microscope I have been able to use for the study of the use wear analyses of Late Mesolithic artefacts from two Lutter/St. Joseph, France and Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland.

Microfossils, Lutter/St. Joseph. France. Mesolithic

Micro-fossils in a Late Mesolithic burnt retouched bladelet from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (150x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

The unexpected little joys of lithic use wear analyses I

Sometimes, when doing the microscopic analyses of use wear traces I come across fascinating things that have little to do with the actual use wear of the tools being studied. Instead they either provide something of a background to their natural origins or are just visually interesting. The digital microscope I have been using at the Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université de Fribourg, Switzerland has many technical possibilities. It allows me to document not only the use wear traces using a variety of photographic technologies. It also provides the opportunity to record composite photos such as this one of an otherwise not very interesting bladelet fragment from the site of Lutter/St. Joseph, in the French Alsace. I’ll try to publish a few more of such examples in the near future.

Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Crystal inclusion in a Mesolithic flint bladelet.

Crystal inclusion in a Late Mesolithic flint bladelet fragment from Lutter/St. Joseph, France. Composite (focus stacking) image (100x) I made with a Keyence Digital microscope (Dep. Of Geosciences at the Université du Fribourg, Switzerland.)

The “Gestures of Transition” circus is touring again!

So, have you been cooking? What do you cook on a busy day? Right, back to business. This Wednesday Laure Bassin and I will be talking (in German) about the “Gestures of Transitions” project a the Universität Zürich. An hour of Mesolithic, artefact biographies, use wear, chaînes opératoires, Arconciel/La Souche, Lutter/St-Joseph; the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Switzerland from a different point of view. So, if you are anywhere near Zürich on wednesday, do look in. We look forward to seeing you!

Wed. 23rd Nov. 2016. 18:15   –  Universität Zürich, ARCH, FB Prähistorische Archäologie, Karl-Schmid-Str. 4 – Raum KO2-F-153

Steingeschichten. Das Endmesolithikum zwischen Voralpen und Jura, geschrieben von den letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen

MA Laure Bassin (Université de Neuchâtel), Marcel Cornelissen, MA (Universität Zürich)
Im Rahmen des «Gestures of Transitions»-Projektes wird der Übergang  Mesolithikum-Neolithikum am Nordrand der Alpen untersucht. Grundstein dieser Untersuchung ist eine innovative, kombinierte Analyse der Technologie, der chaȋnes opératoires sowie der makro- und mikroskopischen Gebrauchsspuren an den geschlagenen Steinartefakten aus gut stratifizierten Fundensemble von Arconciel/La
Souche (Kt. Freiburg) und Lutter/St. Joseph (Elsass, Frankreich) aus dem 7./6. Jt. v. Chr.). Das Projekt untersucht ob und wie sich die tiefgreifenden sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Änderungen am Übergang zum Neolithikum in der Herstellung und im Gebrauch der Artefakte wiederspiegeln. Die Entwicklung in den Gesten der Werkzeugherstellung und des Gebrauchs lässt neues Licht auf die letzten Jäger- und Sammler/innen im peri-alpinen Europa werfen.


Autumn writing

We have spend a few amazing autumn days on a lake in the Swiss Alps. My amazing, supportive wife has now left me alone at the lake to spend a week to try and finish a section of my PhD thesis in splendid solitude.

Well that, and to eat the last ripe figs of the tree!

Holidays in a rock-shelter. Early Mesolithic occupation of the Berglibalm in the Bisistal (Muotathal, canton Schwyz).

Last summer part of my holidays was spend with friends in a rock-shelter in the pitoresque Bisistal in central Switzerland. A badger had dug his/her sett in the abri and, doing so, brought up a few bones and charcoal. These were discovered by Walter Imhof, a speleogist, who has discovered and surveyed many sites and caves over the past decades. A small test-trench resulted in some stratified charcoal which was dated to the ninth millenium BC. After more bones and a rock crystal flake were found, it was decided to start a small excavation, organised by Walter Imhof and Urs Leuzinger. We dug a two by two meter trench where the archaeology was most threatened to be disturbed by further digging by our friend the badger, as well as a few more test-trenches to see if there were more areas of occupation.


Abri Berglibalm, Bisistal (Muotathal, Switzerland) during excavation, August 2015.

The results were fantastic! Worked bone finds from caves dating to the Early Mesolithic had been known from caves in the region, but now we found a decent collection of lithic artefacts (total 285, incl. 10 microliths) and faunal remains in a well-stratified, charcoal rich layer (probably the replaced remains of a fire-place). This greatly improves our knowledge of the Mesolithic in the alpine regions of Central Switzerland. Also, it was a fab week with friends and colleagues and a great break from the work on the PhD. Nothing better to clear your mind then listening to yodelling (as well as, sadly, quite a bit of german schlager music of a lesser quality) and friends snorring for a week, drinking mediocre beer, stomping up a hill every morning through a field consisting entirely of cow pads, breaking your back sieving, breakfasting with amazing cheeses and excavating great archaeology!

Mostly due to the fantastic engagement of Urs Leuzinger and the rest of the team, the site has already been comprehensively published in the Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse (Leuzinger et al, 2016). It includes lithic analysis, ltihic raw-material provencing, charcoal-, palaeobotanical- and faunal analyses. It’s well worth a look!

Die Fundstelle Berglibalm befindet sich in der Gemeinde Muotathal im Bisistal auf 1140 m ü.M. In der 4 m2 grossen Grabungsfläche von 2015 konnte eine frühmesolithische Schicht aus der Zeit um 8100 v.Chr. dokumentiert werden. Die vorhandene Holzkohle belegt Hasel und Ahorn als bevorzugtes Brennmaterial. Daneben kamen viele gut erhaltene Faunenreste, wenige botanische Makroreste sowie ein lithisches Inventar mit 285 Artefakten, darunter 10 Mikrolithen, zum Vorschein. Der Abri diente als Lagerplatz für mittelsteinzeitliche Jäger, die im hinteren Bisistal Jagd auf Steinbock, Gämse, Hirsch und Wildschwein machten.

La Berglibalm est un abri sous roche mésolithique situé dans la vallée du Bisistal (commune de Muotathal), à 1140 m d’altitude. La surface fouillée en 2015, couvrant 4 m2, a livré une couche du Mésolithique ancien datée d’environ 8100 av. J.-C. On y recense des concentrations de charbons de bois – le noisetier et l’érable comme combustibles principaux. Le site a livré de nombreux restes de faune bien conservés, quelques macrorestes botaniques, ainsi qu’une industrie lithique comprenant 285 artefacts, dont 10 microlithes. L’abri servait de campement à des chasseurs mésolithiques à la quête aux bouquetins, chamois, cerfs et sangliers des régions d’altitude du haut de la vallée du Bisistal.


Full publication:

Leuzinger, U., Affolter, J., Beck, C., Benguerel, S., Cornelissen, M., Gubler, R., Haas, J. N., Hajdas, I., Imhof, W., Jagher, R., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, C., Leuzinger, P., Müller, W., Pümpin, C., Scandella, S., Scandella, T., Schoch, W. & Warburton, M., 2015, Der Frühmesolithische Abri Berglibalm im Bisistal, Gemeinde Muotathal (SZ), in Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz, Vol. 99, 7-26

Popular short text about the site:

Leuzinger, U. 2016, Dachs entdeckt Steinzeitfunde, in Archäologie in Deutschland, Nr. 1.

A short summary (EN) of the first preliminary results can also be found here:

Cornelissen, M. and Reitmaier, Th., In press, Filling the gap. Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps, in Quaternary International (to be published 2016; Click here for more infos / a PDF of corrected proof.

Transforming prehistoric gestures into present day objects. Turning your (PhD-)research into postcards.

Like many archaeologists, I spend my days in a lab or at a desk. I study microscopic traces of use on Late Mesolithic and very early Neolithic stone artefacts to try to find out what these tools were actually used for all those thousands of years ago. By understanding the use of various types of tools we hope to understand the lives and activities on the sites they were found (Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St. Joseph) and in Switzerland/Western France at the time of the last hunter-gatherers and the first farmers here. This period, roughly 6500 to 4800 BC, is a fascinating period, during which many things, not least the economy, changes. That is the story I wanted to tell and I wanted to do this in a light-hearted and accessible way. At the same time I wanted to avoid the typical channels of public outreach. But I did want to show the beauty of the process of doing archaeology. This fascination for the archaeology of hunter-fisher-gatherer societies and the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic of the early Holocene together with the wonder of seeing the activities and lives of people who lived such different lives from us in these small stone artefacts were the main reason behind the decision to do something with all the photos I am taking at the microscope.

We archaeologists often tell stories about the sites and objects we study after we have finished excavating and have done with all our analyses. Often the stories we tell are presented as complete and certain, while actually they are often complex and full of ambiguity and are seldom truly finished. We also show reconstructions or we invite the public to visit our excavations, the archetypical activity of archaeologists, and tell stories about and show photos from our digs in more or less exotic localities. But we rarely show the processes and the work we spend most of our time on: Our work in labs, in offices in dark basements of archaeological institutes, hot dighouses or even cold office containers on excavation sites. I hope to show some of these processes of making sense of the archaeological remains and knowledge creation through these postcards. Our, my daily work and the beautiful and fascinating things and objects this work creates and which are seldom seen by anyone.

Most visual depictions by archaeologists either try to show realistic or natural representations of archaeological remains, objects or archaeological deposits or they try to tell a story by creating visual reconstructions. Others are more picturesque and depict the archaeology in the context of the other, the exotic. A fourth category of archaeological visualisations are ethnographic in nature. Especially the first three types of images are usually published in scientific archaeological publications and reports. If the process of doing archaeology is recorded, it is often in the form of the ethnography of archaeology. With these postcards I hope to document the process of archaeology in a differing way. Furthermore, by publishing them on postcards, these photos are able to leave the elitist and restricted realm of scientific publication and other environments in which archaeology can usual be found, be it museums or public monuments or websites. The postcards feature microscopic photos of use wear traces and thus transform the gestures of people in the distant past into material haptic objects in the everyday lives of people in the twenty-first century.

Further inspirations for this little postcards project are the latent undercurrent of and recent call for more alternative and punk-ethos in certain circles in the archaeological community and the stones of the Murgtal Steingarten-project and Mail Art activities of concept artist H.R. Fricker. They stimulated me in the first place to produce something relatively inexpensive and easy to produce (of course, this would not have been possible without the great Ben Peyer of Version1!), common objects, but also something that could feature in everyday life and does not require huge effort on the part of the beholder. Postcards fitted the bill. On the one hand they are collectable objects, on the other they are mundane, everyday objects.

The postcards me and Ben made certainly don’t follow the visual vocabulary of the punk-tradition, but using such mundane objects for publicising my PhD-research and injecting them into everyday life, they might refer to some extend to the punk-ethos. Not unlike the visual output of punk culture, Mail-Artists in the second half of the 20th century made a lot of use of collage and montage techniques as well as stamps and other media and also had a strong d-i-y tradition. Furthermore, I hope the postcards also refer in a tongue-in-cheek manner to the Mail-Art movement and the way scientists in the past – before scientific journals became so common – spread and discussed their scientific findings by correspondence and letters.

Both the punk and the Mail Art movements were also about creating and maintaining communities at various scales. Lately, a lot of exchange between archaeologists and scientists in general takes place in the digital world, via email, social media, blogs, podcasts and platform such as researchgate. With these postcards I would like to extend these lively conversations into the physical world while at the same time, using digital channels to spread them. And last, I still think it is great to receive a postcard in the post and love sending them.

So, if you want to know how to receive a postcards, have a look here. It would be great to hear from you!

I decided not to use references in this text, but the following publications have inspired the production of the postcards and this text:
• Barthes, R., 1980, La chambre claire, Paris
• Edwards, E., 2002, Material beings: objecthood and ethnographic photographs, in Visual Studies, Vol. 17, 1
• H.R. Fricker > work in general more specifically the Steingarten Murgtal project
• Hamilakis, Y., Anagnostopoulos, A. and Ifantidis, F. (2009) Postcards from the edge of time: archaeology, photography, archaeological ethnography, in Public Archaeology, 8, (2-3), 283-309
Punk Archaeology
• Shanks, M. 1997, Photography and Archaeology, in Brian Molyneaux, B. (ed), The Cultural Life of Images: Visual representation in Archaeology
• Those two great blogs by Colleen Morgan – Middle Savagery and Bill Caraher – The archaeology of the mediterranean world


Filling some gaps – Recent research into the Mesolithic in the Swiss Alps

It was a scorching hot day in June 2014 in the Italian Dolomites. Now it is Febuary 2016. It is cold and dark out and I can’t wait to get on skis again. Still, it is a good day to think back on that hot June day when Thomas Reitmaier and I presented the results of a decade or so of Mesolithic research in the Alps of south eastern and central Switzerland at the MesoLife conference in Selva di Cadore. It is now available online!

Now you might think, is there any evidence for Mesolithic hunter-fisher-gatherers in the inhospitable high Alps? Well, yes there is. Up to 2007 hardly a handful of surface and loose finds were known. But many hours of dedicated fieldwork by many people have resulted in quite some new information. Thomas and I have tried to pull it all together and write it up. We were not only able to give a good impression of what we know of Mesolithic life in this part of the Alps, but also of what we do not yet know and what is to be done about that!

We are very excited that the corrected proof of the article is now available online as a preprint. So, get in your lazy chair in your snug warm room with a hot bevvy or a beer, look out on the wintery world outside and read all about the marvelous lives of people in the Alps 11’000 – 7’500 years ago. As you do, please also spare a thought for the archaeologists who spend days in rain, fog, sunshine and snow, with or without us, plodding across alpine meadows, climbing obscure passes and help dig innumerable – often empty – test-trenches.

Cornelissen, M., Reitmaier, T., in press. Filling the gap: Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the central and south-eastern Swiss Alps, Quaternary International (2016),

Until 2007 only a handful of surface finds dating to between the end of the LGM and the Middle Neolithic were known in the alpine regions of central and south-eastern Switzerland. A number of recent rescue excavations, research projects and single finds have now shown the presence of people at high altitude in these parts of the Alps from the 9th millennium cal BC onwards. Both open-air sites and rock shelters are represented. Many sites lie above the valley floor, in the upper subalpine or alpine zones, and on routes to minor as well as major passes. Together with new palaeoenvironmental data, these archaeological finds allow us first insights into the nature of interaction of Mesolithic people in the south-eastern Swiss Alps with their social and natural environment, as well as their relationship with regions further afield. Furthermore, the finds allow us to start thinking about future research into the early prehistory of the south-eastern Swiss Alps.

I am sorry about the pay wall (but, pssst, check the publications page …).
And when this is not enough entertainment, look for the other preprints of paper on the Mesolithic of the Alps that resulted from MesoLife conference. Many thanks to the editors of Quaternary International and the MesoLife guest-editors for enabling us to publish this here!

Hafting microliths II – North and south of the Alps

Some things change, some things stay the same. The latter is true for archaeologists as well. And so, for us microliths are still the superstars of the Mesolithic; the fascination they hold as arrowheads of the intrepid Mesolithic hunter, and their use to archaeologists as a finds group that can help them (relatively) date sites or occupational phases of sites. Archaeologists do this by comparing their form and how they are made with those found on sites with known absolute dates, often obtained through radiocarbon dating. Some time ago, it became apparent to me that I knew only of very few microliths from the Alps with evidence of how they were used. They are typically seen as arrowheads, but is that really true? Don’t you agree they, for example, also resemble the blades of Stanley/Japanese/utility knives?

Since then, I have learned about of a group of microliths from the Gaban rock-shelter in the Adige valley, northern Italy. And I have been able to study the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland as well. The artefacts from both sites tell us a lot about how these enigmatic microliths were used all those thousands of years ago. The tools from the Gaban rock-shelter were already studied some years ago by E. Cristiani and colleagues (2009) using two main methods, both involving microscopy. First, they were able to use macroscopic and microscopic traces of wear caused by the tools’ use to determine that the majority of the microliths at Gaban, these are so called trapezes, were used as projectile points. Secondly, the researchers recognised residues on them and they interpreted these as elements of the mastics used to fix the flint tools in the arrow shafts. Two kinds of residues were recognised. A brown residue turned out to be a mixture of bitumen, probably birch tar, and beeswax. The other, red residue turned out to be ochre. The location of theses residues on the tools seems to show how the tools are fixed into the arrow shafts (Cristiani et al, 2009).


Residue distribution and reconstructions of the use of the trapezes. A) Trapeze position as an element of a composite arrowhead. B) Use of the trapeze on a single distal point. From Cristiani et al., 2009 Fig. 8 and 10.

The work on the microliths from Arconciel/La Souche is not yet completely finished, but it is already clear that both strands of evidence for the use of the artefacts from the Riparo Gaban are also present at microliths from Arconciel. Arconciel/La Souche lies at the foot of the Prealps, north of the Alps. Not exactly near the Dolomites. Their date is similar, though, and we know similar looking microliths were produced in much of Europe during the end of the Mesolithic. It is thus interesting to compare the findings of the research into the use of the microliths from Gaban and Arconciel. And indeed a number, but not all of the microliths from Arconciel/la Souche have been used as arrowheads as well, but apparently not in exactly the same way as the arrowheads from Gaban in Northern Italy. The way they were fixed in arrow shafts also differs.

But many questions about the exact use and function of this type of tools are still open. What did people in the Mesolithic hunt with these arrows? And how? And why do some of the microliths show they were used for other tasks, even though they seem to look exactly the same as those used as arrowheads? And why does it differ so much between sites? And if they are used differently, can we still use these tools to date sites? I guess, our growing knowledge of the role microliths played in the lives of hunter-fisher-gatherers living in central Europe eight thousand years ago will probably only increase our fascination with them!

Cristiani, E., Pedrotti, A., & Gialanella, S. (2009). Tradition and innovation between the Mesolithic and early Neolithic in the Adige Valley (northeast Italy). New data from a functional analysis of trapezes from the Gaban rock-shelter Documenta Praehistorica, 36 DOI: 10.4312/dp.36.12

Glaciers, forests and prehistory between Andermatt and Hospental

«Gletscher, Wald und Steinzeitmenschen im Urschnertal»

English text below.

Sechs Jahre ist es schon her, dass ich an den archäologischen Prospektionen und Ausgrabungen im Urserntal, zwischen Andermatt und Hospental, teilnahm. Die Funde, welche v. A. aus der Römerzeit, dem Mittelalter sowie aus der Bronzezeit und dem Mesolithikum stammen, wurden vor einigen Jahren ausgewertet und publiziert. Jetzt sind diese archäologischen Funde mit der faszinierenden Wald- und Gletschergeschichte zusammen geführt worden und in einer schönen Sonderausstellung im Talmuseum Urserntal in Andermatt zu sehen.
Neben vielen Bilder, die die Wald-, Gletscher- und Kulturgeschichte illustrieren und einem eindrücklichen Tonbildschau sind viele originale Objekte ausgestellt. So gibt es erstaunlich gut erhaltene und bis zu 8000 Jahre alte fossile Baustämmen zu bestaunen. Sie sind instrumental für das Verständnis des Urserntals so wie wir es heute kennen. Zu guter Letzt ist auch eine schöne Auswahl von archäologischen Funden zu sehen, die etwa 7000 Jahre Menschheitsgeschichte im Urserental widerspiegeln.
Letzten Freitag fand die Vernissage statt, verbunden mit einem erfreulichen Wiedersehen mit alten Kollegen. Die Ausstellung ist noch bis 8. Okt. 2016 zu sehen. Die Öffnungszeiten (Mi-So 16-18:00) erlauben den Besuch nach einen schönen Tag im Schnee oder einer Wanderung im Gotthardgebiet.

Publikationen: Siehe weiter unten


Fosil woods in the exhibition “Gletscher, Wald und Steinzeitmenschen im Urscherntal” Talmuseum Urserntal, Andermatt.

It has already been six years since I took part in the archaeological survey and excavations between Andermatt and in Hospental in the Urserntal. Finds dating to roman times, the Middle Ages as well as the Bronze Age and Mesolithic, have been analysed and published some years ago. Now, these finds have been combined with the evidence for glacial- and forest histories and have been made into a special exhibition at the Talmuseum Urserntal in Andermatt.
A great number of visuals and an impressive slide/audio-show illustrate the natural and cultural history of the valley. But many original objects can be seen as well. Amazingly well preserved fossil trees dating up to 8000 years back are essential in explaining the glacial and forest histories of the Ursern valley. The valley’s 7000 year long cultural history is shown through archaeological finds spanning this long period.
Friday, the exhibition was officially opened. It is well worth a visit and for many of us it was a good opportunity to meet up with old colleagues again. The exhibition will be open until Oct. 8th 2016. And the best thing is: the opening times (16-18:00 Wed. – Sun.) mean that it is perfect for a visit after a day on the slopes or after a good hike.

2014 “Spuren einer Kulturlandschaft. Archäologie Untersuchungen bei Hospental 2007 und 2010.” Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, Neue Folge 68, 1/103, pp. 37-83. ISSN: 978-3-906130-87-3

Auf der Maur, C. & Cornelissen, M., 2014, Die spätmesolithische und bronzezeitliche Fundstelle Hospental-Moos. Ein Einblick in das urgeschichtliche Urserntal, in “Spuren einer Kulturlandschaft. Archäologie Untersuchungen bei Hospental 2007 und 2010.Historisches Neujahrsblatt 2013, Neue Folge 68, 1/103, pp. 37-83.

Spillmann, P., Labhart, T., Brücker, W., Renner, F., Gisler, C. & Zgraggen, A., 2011, Geologie des Kantons Uri. Naturforschende Gesellschaft Uri, Bericht 24, Altdorf

A blogpost about conferences and The Inevitable! Including some cheeky begging for beer and cheese, as well as some hidden advice for PhD-students.

The inevitable has happened. Last week the funding for the Gestures of Transition project, and thus for my PhD research, has run out and I’m still at it. And I will be for some time. Anyone who wants to buy me a beer or invite me round for a cheese fondue the coming months or send me a postcard with encouraging words, do get in touch! Eternal gratitude will be your share.

Still, my project partner and I have gotten on well with our work the past few years. Also, I am enjoying the research and all the other little things more or less related to it very much and will continue to do so. One of the most fantastic things about doing PhD research must be that you get to be completely geeky and spend an extraordinary amount of time working on a subject you love. And you better love it, because there will be times when you really need that love to keep going and to keep sane!

One of the ways of revelling in your self-chosen topic of geekery are conferences. At the moment conferences and workshops etc. on the Mesolithic and related topic seem to come flying left, right and centre. There was MesoLife June 2014 (to be published soon in special issues of Quaternary International and Preistoria Alpina. Hey-hey!) The highlight of the Mesolithic year 2015 must have been MESO2015 in Belgrade. That was fantastic and worth it just for the enormously long and hot bus ride to Lepenski Vir! LEPENSKI VIR! I really enjoyed meeting new and old friends and colleagues as well as the breadth and variety of the presentations from all over Europe (and the Near East). Although the 10min rhythm of presentation was quite relentless. Together with my project partner, I presented some of the results of our research on the chipped stone technology and use wear of the assemblages from Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St. Joseph (FR).
table ronde Méso Strasbourg_Seite_1

I had to miss out on e.g. CHAGS, the use wear conference last May in Leiden and the Knappable Materials conference in Barcelona, though, and there have been quite a few more. But early November the fun continues: There will be a two-day table ronde on Late Mesolithic archaeology (7th – 5th millennium BC) in Strasbourg. You’ll find the program and flyer here. I will be contributing a little to a paper on projectile points from Arconciel/La Souche and Onnens/Praz Berthoud. I also saw a flyer somewhere on a workshop, I think about Mesolithic structures in northwestern Europe in Paris, early 2016. And, of course, there are the AG Mesolithikum in Krasna Lipa in March 2016 and the raw materials-conference also in March 2016. Does anyone know of any more conferences for Mesolithic researchers coming up soon? Why not leave a comment or get in touch on twitter (@dropsofhazel).

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll show up at the AG Mesolithikum or any other conferences in the next half year or so, as from now no my focus will be on really cracking on with my PhD research as efficiently as possible. Because as somebody wisely said to me not too long ago:

“The only good PhD-thesis is a finished PhD-thesis!”

Gampelen/Rundi, Mesolithic sites on a sand dune in the Swiss `Seeland´.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

View over the Rundi dune, Gampelen during the test-trenching campaign for the AD Bern. September 2015.

Sand. Like the sand in a sand box. No stones, no clay nor silt, just beautiful yellow sand. My very first dig was in the southern Netherlands and the soil consisted solely of sand. And it was great! I then spend a number of years digging in sand and I guess, it became my first archaeological “home-soil”. I have since dug in many countries and even more soil types and let me tell you, digging is never faster as in sand. I am not saying there are no challenges in understanding the stratigraphy and archaeology, but it truly is very handy. So when I got a phone call if I wanted to do some test-trenching in a sandy area in Switzerland I was quite keen. When I heard it was in Gampelen, where a number of Mesolithic surface concentrations have been long known and one – Jänet 3 – has been excavated, I was sold!

Two chipped stone tools from Gampele, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015.

Two chipped stone tools from Gampelen, Jänet 3 (surface finds), found by H. Stucki. From Cornelissen, in Archäologie Bern, 2015. Drawings: Chr. Rungger (AD Bern).

I took a few months off from the big PhD and although we did not find much archaeology in the way of finds and structures, we did find some and we were also able to firmly establish the edge of the Lac de Neuchâtel here during the Mesolithic. Besides, it was very good to be able to take some distance from the PhD-work for a short while. The surface scatters in the vicinity of our test trenches we now know were, like Jänet 3, situated near small depressions on top of Aeolian sand dunes. In these depressions might have either stood open water or moors. From the stratigraphy it is now also clear that not all finds have been ploughed up yet and some of the archaeology might still be preserved in-situ. So, in a way it turned out to be more of a landscape archaeological project than your average Meso-dig. Since then dendro-archaeologist Matthias Bollinger and the WSL have also established that much of the sand of the Rundi dune must have been deposited in the 10th Millennium BC. Moreover, the wood samples we took during the test-trenching will help to extend the dendrochronological curve of the area a bit further towards the Late Glacial period. And all of that from that lovely sand in the Seeland!

Cover Archäologie Bern 2015

We even made it on the cover of “Archäologie Bern 2015”!

It was photographer Heini Stucki who originally discovered these sites and he has been field walking here the past 30 odd years. The full test-trenching report has now been published and also includes the surface finds from the past decade. A short summery of the results was also published as a “Fundbericht” in the Annuaire d’Archaéologie Suisse 98, 2015.

And when you’re finished looking up the Gampelen report, do have a look at Heini Stucki’s website and his beautiful photos as well!

(With many thanks to the mighty Rolf W.!)


Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen, Rundi und Jänet. Eine mesolithische Dünenlandschaft am Neuenburgersee. In Archäologie Bern / Archéologie bernoise. Jahrbuch des Archäologischen Dienstes des Kantons Bern 2015 / Annuaire du Service archéologique du canton de Berne 2015. Bern, Arch. Dienst Kanton Bern. Pp. 64-67. ISBN 978-3-907663-48-6.    (Zu beziehen in Buchhandlungen oder bei Verlag RubMedia, Tel. 031 380 14 80.)

Cornelissen, M., 2015, Gampelen BE, Rundi. Annuaire d’Archéologie Suisse 98.  Pp. 176-7.

Nielsen, E., 1991, Gampelen – Jänet 3. Eine mesolithische siedlungsstelle im westlichen Seeland. Bern, Staatlicher Lehrmittelverlag.

A hike in the Prealps and Mesolithic on the Jaunpass, Bernese Oberland

Mai, June, early summer. For those loving the mountains, latest by now it starts to itch again. Summer has slowly arrived in the lowlands, but at higher altitudes there is still snow in places. The Prealps, or Voralpen in German, are perfect at this time of year. I have been spending the weekends exploring the Voralpen of the Simmental in the Bernese Oberland. Although apparently life is not just about archaeology, it is hard to resist seeing some Mesolithic or other prehistoric sites while there. And thus, a few weeks ago, I passed by the Kilchmoos on the Jaunpass. Many archaeological find spots, mostly Mesolithic, are known in the region around the Jaunpass on the Fribourger side of the pass. But Mesolithic artefacts are also known from around the Kilchmoos, on the Bernese side of the Pass. Other Meslithic sites in the region are located in Diemtigen, Chateau d’OEx and the Simmental (more on these some other time).

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

Jaunpass, Kilchmoos, Kt. Bern. @Swisstopo

The Kilchmoos is a small moor at 1505 masl, just south of the pass. During a short survey Crotti and Bullinger found a few dozen chipped stone artefacts at varous locations around the moor. They are all surface finds and no absolute dates could be obtained. But from the artefacts it can be said people left them here during the Mesolithic, ca. 9700 – 5500 BC, probably at least during the earlier part of the Mesolithic, but likely this spot was repeatedly visited by people throughout the period.

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass to the Gastlosen. June 2015

Boltigen, Kilchmoos. View from the direction of the Jaunpass towards the Gastlosen. June 2015

The area around the Kilchmoos is mostly pasture land nowadays and quite open with great views, for example towards the Gastlosen range. It would be great to know what it would have looked like 9000 or 7000 years ago. Peat core, palaeobotanical study anyone?
After looking around for a bit I continued – with great views in all directions – over the Hundsrügg towards the Relleri. A great day out!

ResearchBlogging.orgWant know more about the Mesolithic finds from the Jaunpass? Read the original report here:

Crotti, P. & Bullinger, J. (2001). Campements mésolithique d’altitude sur le Jaunpass (Simmental, canton de Berne, Suisse) Annuaire de la Société Suisse de Préhistoire et d’Archéologie, 84, 119-124 :

Prehistoric rock crystal extraction in the Alps

I have written about the most famous rock crystal find from the Swiss Alps, the Planggenstock Treasure and the use of rock crystal through the millennia before. We know where the Planggenstock Treasure and other recent finds were originally found. Indeed, often we can show historic mining to have taken place in various clefts, there might even be historical written sources.

Prehistoric rock crystal mining sites in the Alps are rare, though. That is mainly because they were also exploited in historic times and this more recent activity has destroyed evidence of earlier, prehistoric mining. At the Riepenkar cleft, situated at 2800masl in the Zillertaler Alps, in Tirol, Austria Leitner and Bachnetzter are able to separate prehistoric artefacts from younger mining debris through painstaking sieving and selecting. They date these artefacts typologically to the Mesolithic and Neolithic (Leitner, 2013; Leitner and Bachnetzer, 2011). Although I realise the work is continuing, I would have liked a bit more detail about how they come to this date. In Switzerland such extraction sites with evidence of prehistoric mining are, as far as I know, unknown. Rock crystal artefacts, however, are far from seldom in Switzerland Continue reading

Going down the Danube – Meso2015

Last week we received confirmation our abstract for a paper at the 9th International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe (Belgrade, sept 2015) has been accepted. The program is now online as well. See you in Belgrade!

Late Mesolithic artefact biographies. Integrating technological and use wear analyses of the chipped stone artefacts from Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F).

This paper presents the results of our combined technological and microscopic use wear studies of the chipped stone assemblages from two multi-occupational sites dating between 7000 and 5000 BC located north of the Swiss Alps.
These sites, Arconciel/La Souche (CH) and Lutter/St-Joseph (F), are situated in the Sarine Valley at the foot of the Swiss Prealps and in the French Jura mountains respectively. Recently excavated and well-stratified, they allow new insights into the still relatively poorly understood developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the Swiss Plateau. The sites are located within different geographical and archaeological contexts. Whereas Lutter/St-Joseph is situated on the edge of the known LBK occupation of the Alsace and southern Germany, Arconciel/La Souche is located on the Swiss Plateau, between influences from the Rhone and Rhine valleys.
The integration of these two methodological approaches leads to an increased and more comprehensive understanding of artefact biographies, of the development of production techniques and artefact use, during the end of the Mesolithic and the transition to farming in the research area. It also allows further interpretation of the Mesolithic occupation and the transition to the Neolithic on the Swiss Plateau in general.

Marcel Cornelissen, MA
Universität Zürich
Insititut für Archäologie, Fachbereich Prähistorische Archäologie

Laure Bassin, MA
Université de Neuchâtel
Chaire d’archéologie pré- et protohistorique

Day of Archaeology 2014

Eingebetteter Bild-Link

Last Friday, the 11th of July, was the annual Day of Archaeology! It is when we archaeologists creep out of our offices, labs, archives and trenches and share with you what our day, a normal Friday in July, looks like. Want to know what archaeologists do all day? Go and have a look at the Day of Archaeology website, or follow the day of archaeology on twitter with hashtag #dayofarch.

Here you can read about my Day of Archaeology 2014. However, do check out the many other contributions as well, especially this contribution: the archaeology of early tourism in the Swiss Alps.


Hazelnut – Corylus Avellana

Hazelnut, Corylus Avellana. Switzerland June 2014.

Isn’t it fascinating that this is what happens when you don’t collect all hazelnuts carefully one summer? Hazelnut, Corylus Avellana. Switzerland June 2014.

MesoLife – Scrapers, lithic technology and use wear and the Mesolithic of the Swiss Alps

What better way to celebrate the beginning of summer, than to spend a few days relishing the combined joys of the Alps with the Mesolithic? I will be deep in the Dolomites this week, at the MesoLife conference in the Museo Vittorino Cazzetta, Italy. Together with Laure Bassin I have made a poster with some of the first combined results of our PhD research. We have looked at the technological aspects and the microscopic use wear of scrapers from the Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche. Below you find the abstract and you can download a pdf of the poster.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Microscopic use wear traces on three Late Mesolithic scrapers from Arconciel/La Souche, CH. Left to right: Radiolarite, fine-grained quartzite and flint.

Together with Thomas Reitmaier I will also present a talk summarising the recent work and new Mesolithic finds in the alpine parts of southeastern Switzerland. Either one of us was involved in almost all of the new discoveries. This is quite something, as less than a decade ago hardly any sites were known here. Do have a look at the abstract at the end of the post. We hope to get a synthesis published sometime in the near future.

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche
Due to their abundance, scrapers can be regarded as the typifying tool category of the site of Arconciel/La Souche, a rock shelter with a well stratified, multi-phased Late Mesolithic occupation (7000 – 5000 cal BC).
The site is located in the Sarine valley, on the edge of the Swiss Plateau at the foot of the Prealps. Much of the lithic assemblage is produced on raw material which originates from these nearby Prealps. The remainder of the artefacts are made from raw material brought here from further afield, e.g. the Jura mountains, the Geneva region and eastern France.
A large majority of the tools found at Arconciel/La Souche are scrapers (46% of the tool assemblage). Chaînes opératoires studies and microscopic use wear analysis are combined to investigate how the variety of local and non-local raw material relates to the production and use of the scrapers. As well as determining whether tool use might have varied according to raw material, these studies raise questions relating to the possibility of foreign techniques being imported along with the raw material. This will not only aid the interpretation of one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Switzerland, it might also provide insights into the developments at the end of the Mesolithic on the northern edge of the Swiss Alps.   –   Laure Bassin (Université du Neuchâtel) & Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich)

Alpine raw materials and the production and use of scrapers at the Swiss Late Mesolithic site of Arconciel/La Souche (PDF)

Filling the gap – Recent Mesolithic discoveries in the Swiss Alps
Until less than a decade ago, it seemed that – unlike in the surrounding part of the Alps – no sites dating between the end of the LGM and the Middle Neolithic existed in the alpine regions of central and south-eastern Switzerland. A number of recent rescue excavations, research projects and single finds have now proven the presence of people in these parts of the Alps from the 9th Millennium cal BC onwards. The majority of the currently known sites date between 7500 and 6500 cal BC. Both open-air sites and rock shelters are represented. Many sites lie above the valley floor, in the upper subalpine or alpine zones, and on routes to minor as well as major passes.
Together with new palaeoenvironmental data, these archaeological finds allow us first insights into the nature of interaction of Mesolithic people in the south-eastern Swiss Alps with their social and natural environment and into their relationship with regions further afield. Furthermore, the finds allow us to think about future research into the early prehistory of the south-eastern Swiss Alps.   –   Marcel Cornelissen (Universität Zürich) & Dr. Thomas Reitmaier (Archäologischer Dienst Graubünden)


Sickles? You’ve been wondering about sickles?

In Switzerland the Neolithic first becomes really visible around 4300 BC, in fact it bursts onto the scene quite extravagantly: Palafittes, Seeufersiedlungen, lake side villages! Because of the fantastic preservation of organic finds such as wood and bone, they are the showstoppers of Swiss archaeology.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 4300 BC. Wood and flint. Adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 117

I have been wondering about sickles lately. About sickles of the earliest Neolithic and perhaps the latest Mesolithic and about the way they were used and what they might have been used to harvest. As finds of any kind dating to the earliest Neolithic up to about 4500 BC are very very rare in what is now Switzerland, it makes sense to use the fantastic archaeological archive of the Lake side villages. (Sickles also play quite a role in the history of use wear analysis and more here.)

4500 BC. That is when the Late Neolithic starts here. Before that there are a barely visible Early (from ca. 5500 BC) and Middle Neolithic (from ca. 5000 BC). We known of a few sites dating to the Early Neolithic, though. Some very rare

LBK settlements are found, mostly in those few scraps of Swissness north of the Rhine, such as two sites in Gächlingen, Schaffhausen and Bottmingen/Bäumliackerstrasse, Basel. A small remnant of an early deposit at the site of Herznach-Unterdorf, in the Aargauer Jura might be the first place where LBK pottery was found south of the Rhine (JbAS 2013, p. 172). Further “Neolithic” finds are know from unstratified contexts or from sites otherwise attributed to the Late Mesolithic. This includes La Hoguette pottery fragments and/or Bavans projectile points from, for example Baulmes/Abri de la Cure and Mont la Ville/Col du Mollendruz, Abri Freymond or sites in the canton of Lucerne. And indeed from Lutter/St. Joseph (FR), one of the two sites from which I am studying finds for my PhD, Grossgartach pottery is known. Lastly, occasionally occupation layers older than the Late Neolithic lake side villages are observed underneath Late Neolithic deposits, but the evidence is scant and there is not much more to say about these or the sickles that might once have been used by the people living in Bottmingen or in Baumles or Lutter. In the Alsace, North of my study sites, relatively many Early Neolithic sites are known.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. Adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Sickle from Burgäschisee, canton Berne, Switzerland; ca. 3500 BC. The extention at the top of the photo will have had a similar function as the hook on the sickle shown below.
Figure adapted from: Osterwalder & André, 1980. Fundort Schweiz Band 1.

Together with the archaeobotanical discussion about cereal-type pollen from off-site locations, the small Early Neolithic archaeological record leaves many questions unanswered. Questions about the definition of the “Neolithic” and “Mesolithic”, about the economies of the 7th and 6th millennium BC, about harvesting technologies and their first appearances in the archaeological record of the region. Naturally, this will all feature in my PhD research, in fact I have already conducted harvesting experiments (and here). But what do these sickles look like? Their striking variation is shown by the examples shown here. They are some of the older, well preserved sickles from Swiss (Late) Neolithic lake side villages. So, yes, sickles.

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

Sickle from Egolzwil, canton Lucerne, Switzerland; ca. 38000 BC. Ash wood, birch tar and flint. The hook at the end of the sickle (right) supposedly was used to collect a bunch of stems which can be grabbed with the free hand and then be cut with the sickle blade.
Figure adapted from: Bachman & Hügi, 2004, Die Pfahlbauer/Les Lacustres: 150 Objekte erzählen 150 Geschichten / 150 objets racontent 150 histoires, p. 125

P.S. I thought I would not bother you with references to scientific literature this time. Many can be found on hazelnut_relations. But do get in touch if you have questions.

Gardening and the onset of agriculture in the Swiss Alps

Hordeum vulgare Imperialgerste, 2 row hulled summer barley

Hordeum vulgare Imperialgerste, 2 row hulled summer barley

A small patch of my garden has become an unlikely symbol of my archaeological activities of the past 4-5 years. Far away on the slopes of the lower Engadin Valley in the south eastern corner of Switzerland, deep in the central Alps lies the village of Ramosch. Nearby a well preserved terrace landscape is still visible. Recent archaeological work has shown that these terraces date back to the Late Neolithic. These terraces have been used well into the 20th C AD to grow flax and cereals, mostly rye and barley which does not mind dry spells and the short growing season. Even to this day brewing barley is grown in the Lower Engadin Valley above 1000masl from which Birra Engiadinaisa makes some very good brews.

The presence of terraces such as these and settlement sites dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages in combination with the lack of known sites of similar dates in the higher side valleys prompted the Rückwege Projekt (Reitmaier, 2012), in which I took part 2010 and 2011. Since then I have not been able to let loose the archaeology of the Alps anymore. And now barley from Ramosch is growing just below my office window (obtained through the fantastic organisation ProSpecieRara). Also, with a few friends we are starting a new three year project in the Alps this August, about which I will write more some time soon.

Although I am relishing the idea of cooking some fine Bündner Gerstensuppe (barley soup), I am almost more keen for the actual harvesting of the ripe grains using experimentally made Mesolithic chipped stone blades. The focus of the experiment will be on the tools as they will become part of the reference collection for the use wear analyses of the artefacts from Arconciel/La Souche and Lutter/St. Joseph. There has been a long debate about pre-Neolihtic cereal use in Central Western Europe (Behre, 2007, Tinner et al., 2007). Perhaps the experimental harvesting of this barley in combination my use wear analyses of Late Mesolithic artefacts will be able to contribute a little to our understanding of the processes of the adoption of agriculture in the region.


BEHRE, K. E. 2007. Evidence for Mesolithic agriculture in and around central Europe? Vegetation History and Archaebotany, 16, 203-219

REITMAIER, T. 2012. Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Alpine Archäologie in der Silvretta 2007-2012. In: REITMAIER, T. (ed.) Letzte Jäger, erste Hirten. Hochalpine Archäologie in der Silvretta. Chur: Amt für Kultur, Archäologische Dienst Graubünden (ADG)

Tinner W., Nielsen E. & Lotter A.F. (2007). Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence, Quaternary Science Review, 26 1416-1431. DOI:

steinzeitjäger im wanderweg

Stone age hunters in a hiking trail! High alpine passes, hikers, schnapps, goats and mountain biking, you’ll find it all here. If you are only interested in the Mesolithic, Bronze Age and Early Modern archaeology of the Alps, you will find a scientific report on these test trenches in the Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 2013. An up-dated report will appear later this year in the 2013 edition of the new series Archäologie in Graubünden.

Rückwege Blog

630AF4B4278690B93E82A910C96998CCAC36646Din der aktuellen ausgabe 2/2013 der zeitschrift terra grischuna ist ein beitrag zu einer im sommer 2010 untersuchten alpinen fundstelle in der val forno im oberengadin/bergell erschienen.

m. cornelissen/t. reitmaier, steinzeitjäger im wanderweg. terra grischuna 2/2013, 68-71.


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Early stage PhD conference hopping

In October 2012 I was able to make a second start with my PhD research. Together with Laure Bassin I am now part of the “Gestures of Transition” project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The first scrap of funding was spent bumming around Europe, going from conference to conference. And a great idea it was! Three countries, three conferences, three themes that cover what my career has gravitated towards the past ca. 4 years: alpine archaeology, the Mesolithic (esp. the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition) and microscopic use-wear analyses.

In October I found myself in Faro, Portugal for the Usewear2012 conference
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